Leisure

New Clooney film a monumental letdown

February 6, 2014


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The Monuments Men—a good ol’ American story of saving masterpieces of art from the Nazis, for the sake of life, liberty, and the American Way. It tells the story of an American’s great purpose and ambition, but unfortunately, the film as a whole ends up not being as exciting or exceptional as its subject matter.

The film follows the exploits of George Stout, played by George Clooney, an art conservator concerned about the countless works of art being looted and destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. With approval from the President, he gathers a small team—eventually known as the Monuments Men —to enter the front lines and help save any art they come across.

The film moves in a sort of episodic fashion. In one scene we’ll see one character try to convince another to help him and the team find stolen art, and then the next scene is of completely different characters encountering a lone German soldier, with little transition.

In these cases, the method of storytelling comes up lacking. As a viewer, it seems like in doubling as director, Clooney couldn’t bear to cut anything from the screenplay, even in the service of more streamlined storytelling.

Not even the all-star line up could make up for the slips.

The characters in the film lack depth, plain and simple. Even Hugh Bonneville’s Donald Jeffries, the film’s resident tragic hero, only has one substantial quality: alcoholism. But it’s purely an informed trait. We never see him with a bottle—we only know he has done so previously.

The rest of the cast doesn’t have any more to say for themselves. About half the major characters remain one-dimensional personalities throughout the film.

As an ensemble, however, the cast shines. For a lot of the film they’re divided into duos—Bill Murray and Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin and John Goodman, etc.—and the pairs have uniformly good chemistry. Despite a shallow script, all the actors are given their share of clever quips, one-liners, and banter. Many of the best scenes in the film are the ones that only require the cast to be charming. Together, they are the film’s greatest asset.

This is Clooney’s fifth feature as director, and while he’s still not living up to the promise of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck, the film is well assembled. There are a lot of fun little camera tricks and he frames a few interesting shots.  The scenes themselves are well-executed and planned out, even if the film as a whole is not.

Alexandre Desplat, one of the more prolific film composers these days, puts out some good music here, recalling the more grandiose film scores of old adventure movies, a mold The Monuments Men clearly wants to imitate. Full of bright strings and military-esque percussion, it perfectly suits the mood the film wants to achieve. Possibly a minor detail, but it’s one of the stronger aspects of the movie.

Clooney wants to have it both ways—he wants his film to be a fun adventure movie with funny characters, but  also a serious movie about the significance of art preservation. The film has a lot of platitudes to offer about the importance of culture and preserving history, mostly via monologues, but they’re stuffed between jokes about Matt Damon’s French and Bill Murray being Bill Murray. It’s certainly possible for a fun movie with charming characters to hold a meaningful message—Philomena managed it—but here it feels forced.

Monuments Men isn’t a bad film; it’s fun and never too boring, which these days is a success in and of itself. It’s just ironic that a film about how important art is would feel so pedestrian. It never lives up to the significance it insists the story has, mostly because it’s busy trying to make audiences laugh. It is a film that promises weight but delivers mostly fluff—not so monumental, in the end.



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